By Fr Munachi Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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Neighbours Without Borders

Deuteronomy 30:10-14 Colossians 1:15-20 Luke 10:25-37

Catherine Booth, co-founder with her husband William Booth of the Salvation Army, was an electrifying preacher. Wherever she went, crowds of people went to hear her message of hope: princes and nobles, beggars and homeless people. One night, after preaching in a certain city, a certain well-placed lady invited Mrs. Booth to dinner. The lady’s words of welcome as she arrived were: “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful.” “What do you mean, dear?” asked Mrs. Booth. “Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!” “Why, dear, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked. “Certainly not!” the hostess replied. “Well, that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London; they are your neighbours!”

The Golden Rule, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27) which we hear in today’s gospel is not just a Christian thing. Every conceivable religion and culture in the world has the Golden Rule in one form or another. Here is a sampling:

Judaism “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the law: all the rest is commentary.”

Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”

Buddhism “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

If the Golden Rule was so well-known in ancient cultures why then did Jesus spend so much time teaching it as if it was a new thing? It is because Jesus brought a completely new understanding to the commandment. The Golden Rule is understood differently in different religions and cultures. And the key to its understanding lies in the question that the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s gospel, “Who is my neighbour?” (verse 29). Who is my neighbour that I have an obligation to love?

Among the Jews of Jesus’ time there were those who understood “neighbour” in a very limited sense. The Essenes of Qumran, for example, required new members to swear to love the children of light and hate the children of darkness. For them, your neighbour is the one who shares the same religious persuasion as yourself. Other groups, such as the Zealots, would understand neighbour to include only those who shared the same nationality and ethnicity with them. The average Jew would not regard the Samaritan as a neighbour. They are outsiders. The circle of neighbourly love does not include them. Jesus came into a world of “we” and “them,” “we” being the circle of those recognised as neighbours, and “them” being the rest of the world regarded as hostile strangers and enemies of the people.

The new thing in Jesus’ teaching of neighbourly love is his insistence that all humanity is one big neighbourhood. Thus he broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans erected between “us” and “them.” To bring home this point he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as Enemy Number One by the Jewish establishment simply because he is Samaritan, is the one who finally proves himself to be neighbour to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbour” Jesus’ answer is: Anyone and everyone without exception.

The lady who invited Mrs Booth to dinner understood her “neighbour” to be limited only to those on her social and economic level. Mrs Booth reminded her that her “neighbour” should include the nobodies of society. Like this lady, we all need to be reminded that the Christian understanding of “neighbour” admits of no borders. Today is the day to identity and tear down all the borders we have erected between those who belong to us (and are, therefore, deserving of our love and concern) and those who don’t (those others who can go to hell). Sometimes these walls of division are religious in nature, as in the case of religious intolerance, or in the mutual distrust and hatred between those who call themselves “conservatives” and those who call themselves “liberals.” Other times they are ethnic and racial, as in the bad blood between Blacks and Whites in places like South Africa and parts of the United State. They could also be social and economic, as in the divide between suburban neighbourhoods and the inner-city. The gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realise his dream of the world as a neighbourhood without borders.

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